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Eclipse traffic skyrockets; departures cause bigger problem

Aug 23, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Thousands more vehicles than normal streamed into Fremont County over the course of several days prior to Monday's total solar eclipse.

Once the event was over, many of those visitors tried to leave the area virtually at the same time.

Local officials said they had expected post-eclipse traffic jams - especially in Lander and Shoshoni - but "not to the extent that they occurred."

"The traffic had snuck in over a three-day period and then attempted to leave in the same direction all at once," undersheriff Ryan Lee said Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Transportation public relations specialist Cody Beers agreed, saying, "it was like trying to fill a glass of water with a fire hose."

People came in Monday too, he continued: Though Fremont County saw a record number of vehicles in the days leading up to the eclipse, Beers said the traffic that entered the area Monday "far outnumbered the cars that came, stayed and camped."

"It was an amazing influx," Beers said.

Fremont County highways saw almost 12,000 more vehicles than the five-year average for the date Saturday, according to WYDOT, and on Sunday there were about 19,500 more vehicles than the five-year average.

The increase more than doubled when spectators began to leave the area, however: There were almost 33,000 additional vehicles Monday in Fremont County.

Lander to Shoshoni

Wyoming Highway 789 between Lander and Riverton saw a boost Saturday and Sunday, when visitors likely took advantage of local activities in Fremont County's biggest towns.

The highway also was busy Monday.

On Wednesday, Aug. 16, though, there weren't many extra vehicles between Lander and Riverton; only about 120 more cars were counted that day, up to about 150 extra Thursday, Aug. 17, and back down to about 130 more than the five-year average Friday.

On Saturday, the tally rose to about 620 more cars than usual, up to about 1,950 Sunday, and spiking up to 2,850 Monday.

Riverton Police Department Lt. Wes Romero observed the influx Monday along North Federal Boulevard first-hand.

"Once (the eclipse) was over, watch out - the traffic trying to get out of here was just horrible," he said. "On Federal both directions were backed up. (It was) bumper to bumper, not moving very fast."

During the eclipse itself, however, Romero said the streets were eerily quiet, as were the phones at the RPD.

"We had almost no calls coming in," he said. "And while it was getting ready to happen... there was hardly any traffic moving, nothing - it was weird."

Between Shoshoni and Riverton the totals weren't remarkable until Monday. In fact, there was less traffic on that roadway Wednesday, Aug. 16, with about 40 fewer vehicles, and Thursday, Aug. 17, with about 50 fewer vehicles. On Friday the traffic matched the five-year average for the day, and there were about 300 extra cars Saturday, down to about 185 more vehicles Sunday.

When eclipse visitors began to leave Monday, though, the highway to Shoshoni got hit with travelers: WYDOT showed about 2,640 extra people heading that way.

Diversion Dam to South Pass

The busiest road in the county Monday was U.S. Highway 287 between Lander and South Pass. For almost four hours that afternoon there was a traffic jam throughout the city of Lander, prompting a "no unnecessary travel" advisory for the area.

Lander Police Department administrative assistant Duane Kaiser said his agency "did the best we could do" to direct traffic and keep things flowing.

"LPD was at the mercy of the road system with only one way south out of town," Kaiser said. "There was nothing we could do when everybody left at the same time."

The traffic jam throughout the city might not have been all bad, according to Lander Chamber of Commerce Director Brian Fabel, who noted that the last Lander LIVE concert was ongoing Monday afternoon at Jaycee Park, grabbing the attention of some drivers and enticing them to stay another night.

"We had a record number of people at Lander LIVE," Fabel said, crediting the influx of eclipse visitors as well as those choosing stay because of the traffic jam. "We (had) almost 2,000 people."

The highway south of Lander saw 11,450 cars Monday - 8,600 more than the five-year average.

Earlier in the week the numbers weren't as dramatic, with only about 225 extra people Wednesday, Aug. 16, up to about 575 more Thursday, Aug. 17. The number crept up to about 1,500 additional vehicles Friday, about 2,900 Saturday and 3,300 Sunday.

At Wyoming Highway 28 the crowds thinned Monday, with most heading over South Pass but some turning toward Sweetwater Station.

South Pass saw about 190 extra cars Wednesday, Aug. 16, up to about 210 more Thursday, Aug. 17. There were 750 more cars than the five-year average Friday over South Pass, and the numbers continued to rise from there, to about 1,640 extra vehicles Saturday and 2,350 Sunday.

Monday saw the most traffic over South Pass, though, with 7,065 more cars than the five-year average for that day.

Fewer people went toward Sweetwater Station on Monday. There were about 250 extra cars than normal Wednesday, Aug. 16, and about 520 more Thursday, Aug. 17. Friday saw about 1,025 more vehicles pass through the area, up to 1,685 extra Saturday and about 1,420 more Sunday. Almost 2,400 more motorists than normal used the highway Monday.

Riverton to Dubois

Two of WYDOT's traffic counters are located within the city of Riverton, including one on U.S. Highway 26 east of College View Avenue.

That roadway actually saw about 300 fewer motorists than the five-year average Wednesday, Aug. 16.

The total inched above the five-year average Thursday, Aug. 17, by about 235 vehicles, and it was about 850 higher than normal Friday.

On Saturday about 1,780 extra motorists passed by, but after the eclipse Monday there were only about 800 more vehicles than normal, indicating motorists coming in from the east must have skirted past west Riverton using county roads.

At College View and Main Street the number of vehicles passing by matched the five-year average Wednesday, Aug. 16.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, the number was actually lower than the five-year average by about 45 vehicles.

A 230-vehicle increase was observed Friday, though, and almost 170 additional vehicles passed by Saturday, Aug. 19.

On Monday the total was lower than the five-year average again, by almost 900 vehicles, again showing traffic must have routed around the west side of Riverton.

West of Riverton on U.S. Highway 26 there were about 130 extra vehicles Wednesday, Aug. 16, but only about 10 more Thursday, Aug. 17.

On Friday the numbers had gone up, with almost 600 more cars passing by than the five-year average.

The total stayed higher from there, with almost 1,030 extra cars Saturday, 1,660 extra cars Sunday and 1,180 Monday.

Continuing on U.S. Highway 26 east of Diversion Dam there were 165 additional vehicles Wednesday, Aug. 16, about 100 more than the five-year average Thursday, Aug. 17, about 275 more Friday, 565 more Sunday and 1,565 more Monday. Numbers weren't available for Saturday.

U.S. Highway 287 south of Diversion Dam saw 145 additional vehicles Wednesday, Aug. 16, and about 350 more Thursday, Aug. 17, up to 745 more Friday, 1,180 more Sunday, and 2,500 more Monday. Numbers were unavailable for Saturday

West of Diversion Dam there were about 150 extra cars on the road Wednesday, Aug. 16, up to about 235 Thursday, Aug. 17, leaping up to about 770 Friday, 1,330 Sunday and more than 1,600 Monday. Numbers for Saturday weren't available.

Past Dubois on U.S. Highway 26 the numbers were consistently higher, with about 560 extra cars Wednesday, Aug. 16, up to 690 Thursday, Aug. 17, and 1,370 Friday.

On both Saturday and Sunday there were almost 2,000 additional vehicles on the highway, and the tally peaked Monday at about 2,650 extra cars.

Keep it moving

WYDOT and the Wyoming Highway Patrol kept motorists moving throughout the state "as best as possible" Monday, officials said.

In total, traffic in Wyoming increased by more than 536,000 vehicles Monday - almost 68 percent - over the five-year average.

"These are historic traffic numbers for Wyoming," WYDOT director Bill Panos said in a press release. "Our maintenance crews and troopers did an outstanding job under extremely difficult circumstances."

During the "massive traffic departure" within three hours of the total eclipse in Fremont County, WHP officials said they participated in two arrests for driving under the influence, one arrest of an intoxicated pedestrian walking in traffic, one arrest for possession of methamphetamine and two citations for possession of marijuana.

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Monday's solar eclipse reached totality in Fremont County between 11:39 and 11:45 a.m.   Photo by Dan Bendtsen

Monday's solar eclipse reached totality in Fremont County between 11:39 and 11:45 a.m. Photo by Dan Bendtsen


Monday's solar eclipse reached totality in Fremont County between 11:39 and 11:45 a.m.   Photo by Dan Bendtsen

Monday's solar eclipse reached totality in Fremont County between 11:39 and 11:45 a.m. Photo by Dan Bendtsen

Traffic on South Federal Boulevard out of Riverton was bumper to bumper for hours on Monday. Photo by Steve Peck

Traffic on South Federal Boulevard out of Riverton was bumper to bumper for hours on Monday. Photo by Steve Peck


Traffic on South Federal Boulevard out of Riverton was bumper to bumper for hours on Monday. Photo by Steve Peck

Traffic on South Federal Boulevard out of Riverton was bumper to bumper for hours on Monday. Photo by Steve Peck

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